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Dispatch From The Front:
The Gun Control War
By Michael Long - 28 July 2001

JWR - The anti-gun lobby suffers a number of intellectual deficiencies, including a penchant for hyperbole presented as fact ("Every hour, just over fourteen million boys and girls are injured in gun violence! That's nearly twice as many as are rendered vegetables from not wearing bicycle helmets!"); and a habit of using the word "children" so much that one wonders if they aren't earning some cash reward each time the syllables are uttered. Acquainted with neither humor nor logic, the anti-gun lobby presents itself as the Great Moral Voice of America when it is in fact the spinster schoolmarm of the public square, the old girl who has heard a few details, but who has no inkling of the big picture.

What the anti-gun lobby lacks in intellectual rigor it makes up for in rhetoric; that is, it relies heavily on the great cudgel of the New Left: the deployment of emotion where reason is required. Self-government such as ours (rather, such as ours once was and ought to be again) requires order, individual liberty, and personal responsibility for its preservation. But the anti-gun lobby has plastered over those first principles like pasting a new movie poster over an old wall. It's for the children, they say. Safety is the top priority. But the anti-gun lobby has its priorities exactly backward.

In winning the battle-gun control, introduced incrementally-and then winning the war-the abolition of private ownership of firearms-the anti-gun lobby is, ironically, creating infinite risk by trying to eliminate all risk. Guns are dangerous, but they are a free society's insurance in a crisis. Put another way, guns come with risk, but they make a greater good possible. Contrary to what the anti-gun crowd will tell you, this is not at all a radical idea. Examples surround us. Cars are dangerous-accidents kill around 50,000 people every year-but we nod and try not to think about it in exchange for being able to get across town or across the country at will.

It doesn't sound too pretty to put it that way, but that's the math of it. And it's the math of everything we do, from eating fatty foods to walking across the street. So we come to the Second Amendment, and the fact is that, historically, the possession of lethal weapons by the governed is insurance against extreme abuse by those who govern.

Name a free nation that disarmed its people. Ask the question out loud out, and the anti-gun case wilts on the power of rhetoric alone: what kind of free nation disarms its citizens? The words don't even fit together, "free" and "disarmed." It would require a perpetually benevolent government, and the world has yet to create such thing. Even a little bit of power tends to make pigs of those who wield it-just ask Gary Condit. (Better yet, ask the family of Chandra Levy.)

Of course, the anti-gun movement dismisses as a "nut" anyone who suggests a need for such protection-as if everyone in the world is a thirty-something mother of two, safe in a Volvo wagon; as if human oppression is an abstract idea, not something that kills.

So their goal is always to fine-tune the rhetoric. In June, the anti-gun group Handgun Control changed its name to The Brady Campaign. "In adopting the new names, we honor Jim and Sarah Brady's personal courage," Michael D. Barnes, president, said in a press release.

Come on, Mr. Barnes, at least state the obvious: it's easier to win over those folks in the middle if you don't use the words "gun control."

The surprise is that they took so long to make the change. Groups such as Handgun Control are so powerful because they are able to attract great numbers of folks with good intentions-say, a "million moms" who don't want their kids shot on the playground. They then use these numbers to leverage a radical agenda from a disproportionately powerful platform-it's a formula for instant credibility.

And that makes possible what nearly happened just this week, at the United Nations Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms. Except for eleventh hour negotiating by the U.S.-with particular support from Georgia Representative Bob Barr-the "agreement" would have called for the end of private ownership of weapons. Handgun Control would have you believe that this was no more than a UNICEF project to cut down on stray bullets at third-world Little League games. But think again. Small arms are vital to insurgent democratic movements fighting armed and incumbent oppressors. It is little wonder that the leftists of the world were so excited at the prospect of securing a United Nations imprimatur on their efforts to disarm their adversaries-and to get it under the cover of "helping the children," no less. But forgotten first principles lead us to open dark doors.

There is a little good news: the scholarship is on our side. In an indispensable 1995 monograph examining Second Amendment study, University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds describes a "Standard Model" of Second Amendment interpretation as a platform for the gun debate. In particular, by addressing "insurrectionist theory" and the "right of revolution" in their historic context, Professor Reynolds concludes that the fundamental right to ownership is unassailable within the framework of the Constitution.

This does not, however, equate to an unencumbered right to bear arms. It's much better than that. By proposing an interpretation that explicitly protects private gun ownership, Professor Reynolds lays the groundwork for sensible restrictions to promote safety that-we can hope-both sides might eventually agree upon. The key is that by granting a fixed reading, supported by history and scholarship, and in line with a prima facie reading of the text, the threat of incrementalism toward confiscation goes away.

Such a reasonable conclusion will not make the folks at Handgun Control very happy. The membership might like it-I am pretty sure that they are, by and large, reasonable. But the activists have bigger fish to fry. They would never settle for a partial solution, let alone a civil one. It won't be enough for them to achieve a social good through compromise. For them, the idea is not just to win, but to make sure that the other side loses.

Too much is at stake to permit them that victory. Let's fight on, armed with facts, a sense of duty, and a commitment to cooperation and listening. Rhetoric will win the occasional day, but facts must win the war. We have everything to gain, and everything to lose.


Michael Long is a director of the White House Writers Group and a contributing writer for Jewish World Review (JWR).

JWR is on the web at: http://www.jewishworldreview.com

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